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How we cracked the story of the year

  • DellaPergola Sergio
During his 5-month-long stay in SA, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, the head of the Shuvu Bonim Breslov Chassidic sect and his followers became the most newsworthy person of the year. The “Rabbi on the Run” as he was dubbed by Israeli and world media, was making news every week – and Jewish Report regularly led the coverage of his activities – being quoted by several hundred media sources. How were we able to ‘own’ the story of the year? Read all about it and links to other stories in our "2014 Top Reads" series.
by ANT KATZ | Jan 09, 2015

From the day Rabbi Berland arrived in SA with a band of followers in mid-April, SAJR Online began building a contact base of those around the media-shy "Rabbi on the Run" – which allowed us to  be one step ahead of the pack. There wasn’t a single Israeli mainstream newspaper that wasn’t following us daily to pick up the news.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland - preferred pic - HOME



RIGHT: Rabbi Eliezer Berland



This resulted in our ultimate publication of 53 stories, hundreds of photos, dozens of on-site linked content material, over one hundred and fifty thousand words of copy generated, tens of thousands of words in comments and other items of interest such as phone and video interviews, weekly insider information sessions.

When the charismatic Rabbi Berland wanted his followers in SA, Israel and around the world to a prayer for Israel he penned on July 23, he got it to us to publish in his own handwriting while it was being printed and physically distributed.

Rabbi Berland’s colourful followers divided the largely homogenous Litvak Ashkenazi Jewish community of Johannesburg – and also caused a rift between SA Jewry and Israeli (particularly Sephardi) residents.

During the winter there were arguments about whether the followers should have been allowed to sleep in a freezing cold park in Glenhazel.

HOW WILL WE BE JUDGED?
A blog by Howard Feldman

In the end, Israel managed to get SA to issue an arrest warrant for the rabbi (seemingly on spurious grounds) and, after botched attempts to the Hawks to issue him, first by the Hawks and then by the SAPS,  to apprehend him, Rabbi Berland left SA for Holland – where he remains to this day.

The last report run on this website was on December 1 after a Dutch court announced it would again refuse Israel’s request for the Shuvu Bonim leader. Prior to coming to SA, Rabbi Berland had spent time in Zimbabwe and in Morocco.

See below for all the links to related stories

Apparently wanted by Israeli police to answer charges of sexual molestation, Rabbi Berland was arrested on arrival in Holland in September.

Berlov HOME1

LEFT: Rabbi Berland's followers in their unique Chassidic dress certainly added some colour to the normal black of the Glenhazel shtetl




But when it turned out that the Israelis could not show an arrest warrant existed in Israel, he was released on his own recognisances.

Between the September and the December hearings, Israeli police did produce an arrest warrant but when the Dutch court drew back the veil of evidence underlying that warrant, not enough evidence could be found to substantiate it.

The Dutch will now not have another hearing unless Israel provides more evidence.

How SAJR stayed on top for 5 months

The famously media-shy Rabbi Eliezer Berland and his followers were not easy to report on. They simply did not trust the media. Jewish Report Online managed to crack the story of the year by playing it straight down the line – establishing a trusting and off the record platform with all parties, and taking no sides.

Berland free.png



On winning his first case in Holland, Rabbi Berland's followers around the world danced the night away


While allowing all sides to use the platform to communicate their views, SAJR itself did not editorialise, but  merely published the facts, and double-checked the information.

In the end we were able to communicate almost on call with the sect, spoke regularly with Rabbi Berland’s detractors and backers alike and introduced all the issues from all sides. The Shuvu Bonim read on this website that the Hawks had issued an arrest warrant against the rabbi, and from where the Hawks found out he had fled the country.

Immediately after Berland’s arrest, a prominent Israeli lawyer, Sharon Nahari, was sent by his Shuvu Bonim followers to Amsterdam where he recruited local Dutch lawyers, Louis de Leon and Herman Levenstein – the latter was deeply involved in preventing Holland’s parliament from outlawing shechita in 2012.

We spoke to the rabbi’s lawyers in Holland and to the leadership of his Jerusalem Yeshiva. We spoke to him through his closest confidants. After his first conditional release In September, Rabbi Berland said: "I'm done with Israel - It is the State of Hamas not of the Jews!"He also said that the “(Dutch) police said all the complaints about me are 'Bubba Maisas', there is nothing there.”



Follow the story on JR Online:

    ALL CONTENT RELATED
    TO "RABBI BERLAND



    Stories in this series: Top Reads 2014:


    JEWISH REPORT'S 2014 HIT PARADE
    = How it works and how to find, share and follow the series

    SHALOM, TATA, WE WILL REMEMBER YOU… ALWAYS= The natural place to start, last December 

    CAMPUS BATTLEFIELDS ARE NOW MORE LEVEL= The fall from grace of Rhodes in Jauary for anti-Israeli activity cost them plenty of money and managers – the year’s top read

    NEW WORDS FOR JEWS IN 5774= The “QUENELLE”, ISIS, #BringBackOurBoys & “tunnel” join new Scrabble words like “schmutz” & tuchus. The 5774 glossary…

    UPDATE FROM PROTECTIVE EDGE CORRESPONDENT= Boni’s letters home & Rolene's “Reports From The Ground” plus a new letter from proud mum Bonita

    J’SALEM PREPARES FOR MASSIVE SNOW IN COMING DAYS= Mayor Nir Barkat schedules visit to check snow preparedness this afternoon - residents being advised to stay indoors. SEE LAST WINTER'S TOP-READ live-blog & pics as it was happening...

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